More than 17,000 cancer cases have been diagnosed and treated at the Cancer Diseases Hospital in Lusaka since it was established 10 years ago, raising hope for Zambia’s fight against the menacing disease.
The first and only cancer treatment centre offering radiation therapy in Zambia, the Cancer Diseases Hospital, has scored numerous successes in the use of nuclear technology to diagnose or treat cancer, the hospital’s Chief Medical Physicist, Ms Mulape Kanduza, said.
Ms Kanduza said before 2007 patients had to pay lot of money travelling to other countries such as South Africa and India for treatment, which few people could afford, as it was very expensive.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) played a key role in the establishment of the hospital, training for medical professionals, and in the establishment of radiation protection measures for both patients and staff.
“Now people in Zambia can access treatment locally for a fraction of the cost they would pay by travelling outside the country. More than 17,000 new cases of cancer have been diagnosed and treated over the last 10 years,” said Ms Kanduza.
“Access to treatment is one gratifying aspect of the whole fight against cancer. Access to radiotherapy means the Ministry of Health has provided a centre that can successfully treat patients. We are linked to all major provincial hospitals in the country who can refer patients directly to us.”
Ms Kanduza said since the hospital opened, it has seen a surge in the number of cancer cases being diagnosed, the majority being among women.
“The most common type of cancer we are treating is cervical cancer. But there’s also a high incidence of prostate cancer and other types such as Kaposi’s sarcoma,” she said. “With increasing awareness, people are more aware of cancer and if it’s diagnosed early patients’ lives are being prolonged. Diagnosis has gone hand in hand with the treatment as more people become aware of the disease.”
Ms Kanduza said despite some limitations, the Cancer Diseases Hospital was succeeding in the fight against cancer.
“We started off with four pieces of equipment but we can now boast of 10 different types of equipment which enables us to provide services close to what developed countries are offering…. We have equipment that can provide cancer treatment that you can get anywhere in the world. It’s good that we have a home solution for our patients,” she said.
“The limitation we have is that we are the only Centre in the country, so it’ll be very good to have more than one Centre outside Lusaka for more people to access treatment.”
The hospital uses radiation medicine as a vital component of cancer control. It uses procedures such as X-rays, CT scans and mammograms for the early detection and diagnosis of cancer as well as radiotherapy and chemotherapy for the treatment. Radiotherapy can treat and manage the disease and provide substantial pain relief for patients when cure is not possible.
“Radiation therapy, which is nuclear technology, has been proven over the last 100 years to provide effective diagnosis and cure for cancer. There’s a lot of fear regarding the use of radioactive substances as people believe that it is dangerous. But I’d like to rest people’s anxieties by saying that if somebody has been trained on how to use radioactive substances on aa patient or in industry, it is safely done,” said Ms Kanduza.
“Nuclear technology in medicine is very beneficial. It is the only way you can see the inside of the body without opening up the patient. It’s the eyes the doctor uses to see inside the body of a patient.”
Going forward, the Cancer Diseases Hospital hopes to expand its capacities for both personnel and technology, as well as venturing into research.
“The hospital is expanding. Ten years is good experience to go into research and training. We have the capability to conduct locally designed training and to conduct research in collaboration with centres outside Zambia,” Ms Kanduza said. “We also plan to go into other nuclear techniques such as nuclear medicine and Positron Emission Tomography (PET) Scan, a more advanced technology which allows medical personnel to pinpoint the exact location of the cancer.”
The hospital is now able to offer training locally for radiation therapists out of which two intakes have since graduated. The hospital plans to begin local training for other specialties such as radiation oncologists and medical physicists.
Ms Kanduza added that the anticipated Centre for Nuclear Science and Technology, which has been proposed by Russian nuclear firm Rosatom in collaboration with the Government of Zambia, will go a long way in advancing nuclear in medicine in Zambia by providing training and research as well as production of radiation sources that are required in the treatment of cancer.
In June, Rosatom signed a project development agreement with the government, paving the way for the establishment of a Centre for Nuclear Science and Technology as well as preliminary feasibility studies into the proposed construction of a nuclear power plant.
Viktor Polikarpov, Rosatom Regional Vice-President for Sub-Saharan Africa, said: “Rosatom indeed focuses on the global advancement of nuclear medicine. In cooperation with the leading manufacturers in the industry, we are creating the entire medical production complex, from isotopes manufacturing to providing medical care using high-tech equipment. In 2016, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Rosatom signed an agreement on extra-budgetary contributions to the implementation of a cancer treatment program that will benefit many countries.”